Monday, December 27, 2010

M:67/P:56: Recovering From Christmas

Hola Familia,

I´m glad to hear that everyone´s enjoyed the holidays.  I´ll tell you what, I´m feeling pretty out of whack after Christmas.  I´m sure I´ll hop back into the groove of things easy enough, though.  It was good to see you all and hear some familiar voices again.  I´m glad to see we´re still an eccentric bunch of wierdoes.  It´ll be nice to come home in about seven or eight months.  My companion probably could´ve used Skype but his mom wasn´t home while we were at the internet place, so, he decided to stick to the phone calls.  It´ll be a shame that Bray won´t be home for my first Christmas back.  I suppose we´ll just have to wait and see what happens.
As for Christmas out here, I have never eaten so much food.  I´m almost sure I ate ten pounds of food the 24th and the 25th.  Five meals on the 24th and four the 25th.  I was gonna puke.  No joke.  I never want to eat so much again.  But with New Years coming, it´s likely I´ve got one more eat-a-thon left.  I will say, though, it was funny to see my companion and I playing cards and gambling with the food.  Winner got to give the loser two spoons of rice.  I lost a lot.  Most people just served turkey, chicken, and/or ham, nothing too strange.
As for Grandpa, I´m glad to hear he´s still got some of his wits about him.  I do feel bad for him, though.
As for the music here, I´m equally surprised that there´s not more musicians here.  The culture, though, doesn´t make it so easy for people to foster a love for piano and choral style singing.  You´ll see what I mean when you get here.  A couple of the churches have the electric pianos, but very few.  I´ve only seen, like, two.
Well, I´ll keep you all updated on the New Year celebrations here.  Enjoy the rest of the season and take care, everyone.
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Skype

On Christmas Eve morning, we got to speak to Austin on the phone for about an hour.  Afterwards, he walked down to the Internet Cafe, which is about a 15 minute walk from his apartment so that we could talk to him via Skype, something all the missions in the Church were using.  It was really great for us to speak to him and actually see him LIVE.  We definitely noticed some changes in his demeanor.  He had a much deeper voice and he really spoke with alot of confidence about the work he was doing.  We also had an opportunity to see his companion and to listen to them converse back and forth as he did not speak any English.  It was especially great for the kids to test out their school learned Spanish and although they got A's in the class, they found out first hand how different and difficult it really is to carry a conversation.  Austin was more than happy to oblige them as he spoke to them in Spanish.  But it was just as awesome for our family to watch him converse with his companion or just speak in Spanish, something we aren't used to seeing.  It will be fun to have him home in about 8 months.  After about an hour of talking and joking and laughing, we let him go...even if we didn't want him to leave.  But he had 5 dinner appointments scheduled for this day.  Before he left, we sang him and his companion, the Nativity Song, as preparation for our family musical number in Sacrament Meeting on the 26th.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Surprise Call

We received a surprise phone call from Austin and it really was a surprise.  Lisa answered the phone and didn't even recognize his voice.  His voice was much deeper and....just different.  He said is this the Ascura residence?  Is this Lisa Ascura?  This is your missionary.  Lisa thought he was the local missionaries.  It was pretty funny.

Austin called to discuss how we were going to talk on Christmas Eve....That is also ironic because we must have spent an hour on the phone.  Now we won't have anything to talk about on Christmas Eve.  He said all the missionaries were calling on Christmas Eve because the Internet Cafes will most likely be closed for the Holiday, but that he was given permission to talk on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the 26th.

We talked about everything and it was really goo just to hear his voice.  We had him talk about Panama in Spanish and it was truly amazing.  He had a very nice Latin American accent and was even rolling his Rs.  He said it took him a long time to learn how to do that but he said he has had alot of compliments on his language skill. Braden even got to practice his Spanish and I was thoroughly impressed.  Even Carissa and Desiree got to try out their language from Spanish Class.  We all had fun.

Austin is doing very well. He did mention that he lives close to one of his old areas (Alcade Diaz) and that the area was really a slow area.  He is a little disappointed and frustrated about the slow work in the area, but is optimistic about making a difference in the area.  We look forward to his call on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

M:66/P:55: Hoping For the Best

Hola Familia,

Italy, huh?  You´re just all over the place, Dad. I remember everyone looking at me like I was crazy when I told them you were in Paris.  As for that calzone, I´d go for one of those about now.  Especially right now.  Bad days, huh (referring to the Beday toilet)?  Glad to see your keeping your humor fresh.  I remember seeing that when we were in Italy and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with it.
 
As for my mugging experience, my companion was in front of me and I think he had one hand behind his back.  I couldn´t see it and I thought nothing of it.  I have people come up to me and ask me for loose change all the time.  The guy only wanted a dime.  When I gave him the quarter I didn´t see the knife until he moved to the side of the path and I saw the handle.  After we got to the bottom of the hill I asked my companion who told me that the guy had the knife out the entire time.  He was super stressed out and I had no idea why.  Imagine that.
 
As we draw closer and closer to the holidays, it doesn´t look like we´ll be doing much.  I imagine a family or two will invite us over for dinner and we´ll be stuffed.  Other than that, knocking doors and maybe singing Christmas carols to try and get in houses.  As for the Christmas Peeps, still nothing on that.  But they don´t give us mail until tomorrow.  Who knows?
 
As for the week, it´s been an incredibly slow one.  I´ve been abnormally depressed almost the entire week.  I seem to be picking up a bit after visiting the temple on Thursday.  The weather certainly didn´t help at all.  Usually at this time, there´s little to no rain in Panamá because the majority of the winter has already wrapped itself up.  But we´ve been hit with a cold front from the States that sweeped down Central America and a cold front from Colombia coming up north.  As a result we´ve had almost non-stop rain the entire week.  The bad part was that it was cold and there was a lot of wind.  My companion and I both got a little sick.  I also went to the doctor to get some antibiotic prescriptions for some infections that have worried me a bit.  All I´ll say about it is that this things must have gold inside them or something.  On the positive side, it would appear that it´s working.
 
We´ve contacted more and I got to know a young Evangelist teenager who I´ve challenged to put the Book of Mormon to the test.  I challenge everyone to do it but this young man is very astute and has a great interest in learning more about God.  I´m hoping that this Wednesday he´s done his part.  We´ll see.  I´m hoping to get to know his father who is an atheist philosophy teacher.  It´s going to be a fun visit.
 
Well, everyone, I can´t seem to think of anything else to share for the moment.  I hope that you all are enjoying the snow and holiday festivity.  I ask that you all pray specially for me in this area as the president has expressed a special interest in seeing this zone improve.  I´ll need all the help I can find.
 
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, December 6, 2010

Assignment 6: Santa Librada in San Isidro

Austin clarified his assignment as being in the San Isidro Zone, which is back near his first assignment in Alcalde Diaz.  Santa Librada is located in the town of San Isidro.

M:65/P:54: Mugged For A Quarter

Hola Familia,

Ben Hall got called to Armenia?  Didn´t see that coming.  Best of luck to him.

Sorry to hear that your trip to Paris has been so sleepless.  I can only imagine how miserable it is to meander through an art exhibit like that.  I hope you´re feeling better and enjoying the French hospitality.  I expect you´ll be home for Christmas, right?

My companion´s name is George Martín Hernandez.  Honduran.  He seems like a pretty likable elder.  I´ll probably get along well with him.  He´s been in the mission for about six months and is already feeling strange for his first Christmas away from home.  It makes me laugh because I was still in shellshock when I had my first Christmas here.  And now I´m already on the downswing for this, my last, Panamanian Christmas.

As for my new area . . . well, I´m not supposed to be negative so I´ll try to be constructive.  It´s a little difficult to find people because our area is actually quite small.  So when you ask where someone lives, they always give the exact same instructions to find their house.  "El Valle."  That part of our area is about 60%, basically.  It also, according to my companion, has been very overworked.  Many of the people we contact have already turned missionaries away before, so they´re experts here.  We have almost no members in our area, so it´s hard to find referrals to work with.  We have a very small teaching pool for the moment and spend at least two hours knocking on doors everyday.  I´ve already had someone ask me for ten cents with a knife in hand.  I gave him a quarter.  And I´ve technically been bitten by a dog, although he only got at my pants.  I found the saliva on my hip after getting to the house.  And not long before, a dog almost mauled my face as he jammed his head through a fence as I walked by.  It´s been a crazy welcoming week.

The area is calmer than the zone of Colón in general but is probably hotter than my last area.  However, most people respect missionaries, regardless.  I knew that one of us was going to get pulled out just because the Mission President wanted my greenish, gringo companion to have a Latino companion to help his already impressive Spanish.  I guess they figured that three months in Puerto Pilón was sufficient for me.  But I am in a new zone, just a note.

As for after-mission plans, I´m thinking I´ll go to BYU Provo, at least for the first semester or two.  I was considering Colorado as an option but, at this point, I don´t think I can coordinate everything as needed before I come back given as my friends have been fairly slow to reply to my last letters to them.  As for when I´ll get home, I don´t know when the cut off date is for getting into BYU but I think there is a limit to how much time the president here can shear off my service time.  I would appreciate it if you could find the dates for entering BYU.  If I can´t get in on time, I might end up waiting it out ´til winter.

Well, I´m running short on things to say.  I´m trying to keep cheery out here.  It´s weird going back into the holiday season and being in this climate.  All the change of place and people also is making the process go a little slower.  These next few weeks might be a little difficult.  Maybe even more so because we technically won´t have our Preparation Day until Thursday.  We are going to go the temple but our initially planned date, tomorrow, Tuesday, has been very recently altered to Thursday.  I´m not sure if that´s really a wise idea, especially given that this Monday I should have been able to go to the store to pick up food and other things I´ll need for this week.  Not a very considerate nor well-thought out plan, but I imagine I´ll get through.  I´m also still having some problems with some infections on my hands and my ankle.  I´ll probably go get a perscription for some antibiotics soon.  I´ve already found out the fun way that I get allergic hives when I use dicloxicilin.

Well, everyone, I love you and think about you fondly.  I hope you all are keeping well and enjoying the holiday season.  I´ll keep you all updated on all the fun things going down out here in San Isidro.

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Assignment 6: Santa Librada

Santa Librada is a small community in the Colon Province in Northern Panama.  Austin's previous assignment was in Puerto Pilon which is only about an hour away if that.

M:64/P:53: New Area in Santa Librada

Hola Familia,

First off, I´m glad to hear that you all had a good Thanksgiving. It would´ve been a shame to waste a holiday. I´m also glad to hear that the drive back was bearable for Dad and Bray. For me, well, I didn´t remember that it was Thanksgiving until my companion pulled out his cheesecake that he bought specially for the occasion. He was really happy about it.

Yes, I did have changes. I´m feeling really beat for it, too. Packing and traveling and what not is just not good so close to each other. Anywho, my new companion is Elder Hernandez. He´s Honduran. Tonight, I´ll get to know him better. My area, Santa Librada, is in the zone of San Isidro. Having stayed in relatively civilized areas so much makes me think that I´ll be in the city my entire mission. I suppose we´ll see.

As for packages, I got the Peeps package. Any of the other ones, not yet.

This last week was a fairly difficult one. Among the interesting things that happened, we went out to cut tall grass (taller than me) with a machete. With all my macho machete-ing swinging, though, my hands got sliced up by the grass. And unfortunately, the majority of them have gotten infected for the last week or so. It makes it very painful to get things out of my pockets. They´re beginning to heal up a bit now, though. I got Dicloxicilin for it. And I´m pretty sure that´s the same stuff they gave me when I had mono because it covered me in hives just like last time. I think it´s all getting better though.

We began teaching a sister who seems like she lives alone in her house every day and never leaves. She was a reference from the zone leaders and is a very peculiar person. It´s honestly strange coming into someone´s home and then having them unload all their lives´ deepest concerns and other things like that when you´ve only known the person for three minutes. She seems like she really needs people to talk to and help her out. I feel quite bad for her as she´s got a lot on her plate. I hope Elder Alley takes good care of her.

I´ll try to get a Christmas package ready for you all that will have anything you guys want in it. So if you have any requests, tell me soon. That aside I can´t think of too much I could tell you. I built a chicken coop. Out of scrap material. Okay, that aside, I can´t think of anything else to tell you. My brain still feels a little frazzled so I´ll try to make my next letter good. Take care and enjoy the Christmas Season.

Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura